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Delegate Assembly: State Funding Stability Sought

School Boards Seek School Funding Stability

The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) wants the General Assembly to determine the amount of available funding for educational entitlements and general state aid to schools by March 31 each year rather than late May.

This proposal was one of six resolutions considered by more than 315 Illinois school districts at their annual Delegate Assembly held Nov. 20 in Chicago.

Sponsors of the proposal said local school leaders have been forced to make decisions on district budgets without any reliable guidance on the level of state funding.

Consolidated SD 158 of Huntley sponsored the resolution, which passed unanimously and without debate.

The resolution will become part of the IASB’s Position Statements, which are used by school lobbyists in their legislative agenda.

Delegates narrowly rejected another budget-related resolution that called for legislation to allow school districts to “set-off” income tax payments due to the state against amounts owed by the state to school districts.

The resolution, submitted by Indian Prairie CUSD 204, Naperville, called upon IASB to lobby for adoption of such a law in order to send a message to lawmakers that schools are being damaged and are growing impatient with delayed payments.

“We can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch the erosion of revenue for our students,” as the state has consistently delayed payments to school districts as a means of financing its own budget shortfalls, said James Toynton, a board member from Aurora West USD 129. It was noted that as of May 2010, the state was behind $1.4 billion in payments to school districts. This practice, sponsors said, negatively impacts the financial operation of schools. In addition, many districts are forced to incur substantial borrowing costs to make up the funding shortfall.

Curt Bradshaw, board president of sponsoring District 204 in Naperville, argued that “there really is no downside to this,” because it would force lawmakers to appreciate and respond to the education funding problems the legislature has caused.

But the measure also drew opposition.

Barbara Intihar, board secretary of Wheaton Warrenville CUSD200, said “the [income tax withholdings] we are dealing with is not our money; it is our employees’ money.” These payments must be made or “there could be all kinds of nasty things that could happen to our employees” as a result, she added.

Other delegates feared that less state income tax revenue would mean less funding available for schools.

The proposal failed by a vote of 156-169.

The delegates voted on four other proposals, all of which passed. They included resolutions seeking to maintain local school district control over student academic placement, to end unfair allotment practices regarding general state aid for certain multi-county districts, to modify the law governing state oversight panels to preserve the bonding authority of school boards affected by such panels, as well as a proposal seeking modifications to recent changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

To facilitate school district compliance with FOIA law and at the same time removing unnecessary burdens, changes sought by IASB would:

  • Increase allowable FOIA response time from five business days to 10 business days
  • Exclude official school breaks in counting days for required response time
  • Allow denials for commercial purposes
  • Allow denials for any request that is unduly burdensome
  • Clarify language that would allow a request to be denied if it is unduly burdensome to the public body if the public body deems compliance with the request would result in excessive response costs
  • Allow the imposition of reasonable fees regardless of the number of pages being provided
  • Remove the balancing test between the public’s interest and the employee’s right to privacy in the privacy exception
  • Expand the personnel evaluation exemption to cover all school employees
  • Exempt employment applications to protect the privacy of individuals that apply for high-profile employment positions
  • Delete provisions requiring public bodies to write what is essentially a legal opinion as to why they are claiming an exemption
  • Delete provisions requiring public bodies to prepare what is essentially a legal pleading before being challenged for a denial
  • Limit public bodies’ liability by limiting a court’s inquiry to violations of the FOIA Act and not the content of information provided
  • Force the Public Access Counselor to defend its decisions before a court of law if a public body is sued
  • Allow public bodies to seek review of a binding opinion of the Public Access Counselor in the county in which they are located, rather than just Sangamon or Cook Counties.

“What this does is improve the process,” said Michael Fuechtmann, a school board member from sponsoring district Keeneyville SD 20.

“We do support transparency, but we’re receiving FOIA requests from companies for commercial purposes asking our staff to do research and … do the sales person’s job,” added Carola Majewski, vice president of the sponsoring district in Keeneyville. “The original resolution was smaller, but districts showed there are many problems [with the FOIA law].”

In addition to hearing IASB’s annual report from Michael D. Johnson, executive director emeritus, delegates re-elected President Joseph Alesandrini of Pekin CHSD 303 and Vice President Carolyne Brooks of West Richland CUSD 2, Noble, Ill.

The Delegate Assembly is held annually as part of the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. This year, about 10,000 school leaders and guests attended the three-day conference.

Resolutions Adopted at the Delegate Assembly

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